Surge of 44,000 benefit claims in West Yorkshire as coronavirus hits

Credit: PA

The number of people in West Yorkshire claiming for universal credit rose by 44,000 during the month after the Covid-19 lockdown was announced, a new report has claimed.

The number of jobless claimants rose by 30,000, while vacancies had reduced locally by almost two thirds, with sales, HR and recruitment, hospitality and catering industries hit particularly hard.

Officers from West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) claimed the count could have been even higher had the job retention scheme not been in place, as up to 300,000 workers in the region could be furloughed.

The report stated: "Like the rest of the country, Leeds City Region has seen a significant fall in economic and other activity since the beginning of lockdown in March.

"In the early weeks of lockdown, footfall in Leeds city centre fell by 90 percent according to data from Leeds City Council, whilst data on MCard and concessionary fare passes showed a similar fall in movements across West Yorkshire."

It claimed that, in April 2020 there were 87,900 jobless claimants in West Yorkshire, showing an increase of 30,800 (54 percent) across West Yorkshire.

The number of individuals claiming Universal Credit increased even more, with 167,800 claimants in West Yorkshire - an increase of 44,000 - recorded in April.

Job vacancies advertised were said to be down 65 percent locally, showing "wider swathes of the economy have seen a significant reduction in hiring activity".

The report added: "There has also been an unprecedented increase in claims for unemployment benefits.

"The monthly increase in the claimant count seen in April is largely unprecedented, though the consensus among analysts is that this would have been much higher had the Coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) to furlough staff not been in place.

"Although official data on the take up of the CJRS is not available at the local level, one million businesses have collectively furloughed 8.7m staff nationally. Analysis of an Office for National Statistics business survey (which suggested eight million jobs could be furloughed) suggested that if applied locally, around 293,000 and 387,000 workers could be furloughed in West Yorkshire and Leeds City Region respectively."

It wasn't all bad news, however, as it suggested most economic forecasters expect an economic recovery in 2021, "though the scale of impact and timing of recovery is highly uncertain and heavily influenced by factors including the length of the lockdown."